Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Amarcord Nino Rota

Producer Hal Willner made a name for himself with a series of tribute albums, on which he invited musicians and bands from different genres to record contemporary interpretations of, for example, Disney songs, Kurt Weill songs, or Thelonious Monk compositions. Amarcord Nino Rota, from 1981, was the first of these tribute albums.

Nino Rota was the Italian composer who wrote the music for every one of Fellini's films. The interpretations here prove that this music indeed deserves a life beyond the films; this is excellent music on its own. Willner's album is much more jazz-heavy than his later tribute compilations would be; only a couple of tracks are by musicians not primarily associated with jazz. Among the artists are pianist Jaki Byard, the Carla Bley band, my musical hero Steve Lacy on soprano sax, an ensemble arranged and conducted by William Fischer which includes George Adams and the Marsalis brothers in an early appearance on disc, and two years before his own first album, guitarist Bill Frisell.

Amarcord Nino Rota is hard to find these days; it was reissued briefly on CD, but copies now go for premium prices. Here is Frisell's contribution, a lovely version of "Juliet of the Spirits" played on acoustic guitar, accompanied by a ghostly background of overdubbed electric guitars. The YouTube video has excellent sound quality, for a change, but I have no idea why it continues with two and a half minutes of silence after the track is through.

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